In an April media statement, the South African Civil Aviation Authority stated unequivocally that flying drones in civil airspace is illegal. Later, in addressing what it called “misguided hostility,” the SACAA issued a statement in June emphasizing that the agency “has never issued any specific notice or regulation banning the use of unmanned aircraft systems” while still reiterating in the same statement:
“It should also be noted that the SACAA has not given any concession or approval to any organisation, individual, institution or government entity to operate UAS within the civil aviation airspace. Those that are flying any type of unmanned aircraft are doing so illegally.”
In other words, there is no ban on drone use but no one can fly drones. SACAA claims that some drone proponents used the April statement as an “attempt to reduce the SACAA’s safety and security concern to a debate between UAS and toys that general [sic] not require any operating permission from any government agency.” The statement itself does not define what is or is not a UAV “toy.”
SACAA’s confusing position immediately drew fire from the South African film industry. Capetown’s Channel 24 reported that film-industry groups worry the mixed message could create a negative economic ripple effect.
“South Africa runs the risk of losing production activities to other areas who [sic] approve the use of camera drones,” said Denis Lillie, head of the Cape Town Film Commission. “The ban will not only affect feature films, but also tourism promotion agencies often looking for aerial shots,” he added.
African news site DefenceWeb underlined the potential economic damage across South Africa noting that SACAA’s statements resulted in the suspension of “an April bid by … Kagiso New Media and Jacaranda FM to investigate the viability of drones to provide real-time, reliable traffic updates.”
South Africa is not alone in attempting to grapple with intersection of emerging drone technology, airspace safety and privacy concerns. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration is working on UAV guidelines it claims will be rolled within the next few years – a move welcomed by UAV operators (71 percent of whom say current rules are unclear). Given the regulatory confusion, some drone advocates advise operators to “fly your drone and don’t worry about the FAA.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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